Rwanda faces an uphill task of creating thousands of jobs outside agriculture in the coming months in order to absorb thousands of fresh graduates in its bid to reduce poverty and sustain economic growth.
Despite a decade of strong economic growth with an average of slightly over seven per cent, Rwanda still suffers from unemployment as this growth has not been sufficiently translated into productive jobs.
This week, as thousands of students graduated in different fields at the University of Rwanda, a key concern for fresh graduates and their families is finding decent employment. More than 1,300 people graduated in engineering fields such as Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, bio-organic chemistry, environmental management and biotechnology.
Analysts say that for Rwanda, as a country of young people, more efforts are needed to create productive jobs given that some of the employed are also in low-paying jobs.
In particular, the government has to do more to increase access to finance and encourage entrepreneurship among fresh graduates. Most fresh graduates prefer to look for white-collar jobs, hence the need for a mentality shift to encourage entrepreneurship.
While the country’s economic structure is shifting from agriculture to the service sector, which currently accounts for the largest share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) accounting for about 47 per cent ahead of agriculture, the sector has yet to generate enough jobs to absorb fresh graduates.
Analysts say the sector is not well anchored in terms of the necessary skills to facilitate value addition at the production phase and spur industrialisation.
“When you export raw materials, you are exporting jobs,” said Antonio Pedro, the director of the the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s (Uneca) sub- regional office for Eastern Africa, which is based in Kigali. “The higher you go in the up-stream production stages, the more valuable it gets, and the more sophisticated skills and technology are needed.
“Because we don’t have these, we lose so much.”
Mr Pedro argued that Rwanda, just like other countries in the region, has to insist on value addition.
“There is a need for deepening and diversification of skills locally, as well as investment in human resource broadly,” he said.
The UN official added that there is a need for Rwanda to couple the science and technology innovation policy with the science sector if the country is to achieve its target of being a knowledge-based economy.
“The more you are high in knowledge intensity of your population, the high you are in the value chain gain,” said Mr Pedro. “The reason we are behind is because we don’t have skills.”
But there is also concern that at least half of the graduates produced by universities in the East African Community (EAC) lack employability skills, technical mastery and basic work-related capabilities.
According to a recent report by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), a body created to regulate higher education in the regional bloc, most of the universities produce half-baked graduates.
READ: Why EA graduates are ill-equipped for the global job market
The situation, the report, which polled employers, says, denies all the five countries making up the EAC the skills needed to drive growth.
The study showed that Uganda has the worst record with at least 63 per cent of graduates found to lack job market skills, followed closely by Tanzania, where 61 per cent of graduates were found to be ill-prepared.
In Burundi and Rwanda, 55 per cent and 52 per cent of graduates, respectively, were perceived to be incompetent while in Kenya, 51 per cent were believed to be unfit for jobs.
This means that, despite thousands of young people graduating each year, their qualifications are unable to secure many of them jobs.
On how the shortage of skilled manpower hampers industrialisation, Prof Manasse Mbonye, the principal of the college of science and technology at the UR, said his college was aware of the biting skills gap and was doing everything in its means to see that it contributes to the wider government efforts to have a skilled workforce.
“The skills gaps are still large, our raw materials sell for peanuts but go on to generate millions abroad,” said Prof Mbonye. “There is still more to be done in order to churn out people with specialised skills in production.
“Part of our programme is to identify the needed skills and offer training.
“The more we have a critical mass acquiring these skills, we shall reach a time when our raw materials will be applied in our manufacturing. There is also a need for more research and innovation to improve manufacturing.”
According to the second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS II), the government seeks to create 200,000 off-farm jobs every year.
The economy is generating about 104,000 off-farm jobs annually, well below the annual average of 125,000 Rwandans entering the job market every year, according to the 2012 population census.
Experts say the government has to pay attention to policies which promote sectors that enhance job creation, such as manufacturing, agro-processing and service sectors.
However, the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda recently embarked on a business survey to track employment opportunities created by businesses across all sectors of the economy. The results of the survey are yet to be published.
“We ultimately want to produce graduates who are self-sufficient, who start jobs we weave this through our programmes,” said Prof Mbonye. “Statistics show that an engineer who starts his own company does better than one who got employed, a few years after university.”
Ronald Kayiranga, who graduated with a degree in water and environmental engineering, said while pursuing his undergraduate course he could observe a number of gaps, especially in water management and extraction, so together with two of his classmates they designed a water supply system which will, among other things, enable people to purchase water using the “cash power system”.
“I see many challenges out here, many gaps to fill in the market, I won’t sit on my skills I believe I have a contribution, specifically in the water crisis experienced in the country today.
“We have water but extraction has been the challenge.”